Saturday, February 14, 2009

The End of an Era

So one day in 9th grade, at morning meeting, I heard someone make an announcement- anyone who was interested in joining the school's varsity swim team (no experience necessary) should come to the meeting later that week. Hm, I thought, I like swimming. Maybe I should join the swim team!

When I got home, I mentioned the announcement to my mom, who immediately encouraged me to join the swim team. I was a little wary at first, but I decided to do it. After all, how bad could it be? I had never swam competitively before, but I'd be okay, right? Especially since I was friendly with some of the people on the team, I figured it wouldn't be that bad- and besides, I could always quit if I hated it.

So I went to the meeting, and signed up for the team. There was still a month left until practice would actually start, which at first felt like a pretty long time. But the date loomed closer and closer, and I felt a mix of nervousness and excitement as I shopped for swim suits, goggles, and swim caps.

Finally it was time for the first practice. I placed myself in the slowest lane- I figured I would probably be one of the slowest ones on the team (I was right). I also figured that I probably wouldn't get to swim in any meets or earn a varsity letter (I was wrong on both accounts).

I knew that swimming would, if nothing else, be a great workout. I could barely move my arms after the first practice. I was exhausted, in a new sense of the word. Sure, I'd had tough gymnastics practices before, but this was a different kind of tiredness- the feeling was new to me.

I didn't swim in the very first swim meet; instead the coach had me keep score (which was pretty boring, to be honest). I did, however, swim in almost every meet after that. I even got to swim in the County, Conference, and Prep Championship meets! Sure, pretty much all I swam was a 50 free, and sure, I always came in last, and sure, my goggles fell off a lot when I dove in, but I was swimming in big meets! I was so excited when I earned my varsity letter. Going in to high school, who would have ever thought that I would earn a varsity letter? I certainly wouldn't have.

In the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I joined a summer rec swim team at my town pool. Having had the experience of varsity swimming, the rec team practices felt relatively easy. The meets were long- there were only like 6 events (50 free, 50 back, 50 fly, 50 breast, 100 IM, 200 free relay, I think), but there were boys and girls divisions for each event; and then there were the age groups (8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-18); and within each age group, there were multiple heats. I clearly remember, one morning, leaving the house for a meet at 6:45am, and getting home around 1:30pm. I liked the summer swim team so much that I even considered trying out for the YMCA swim team in my town. That would be a huge commitment- year round practices several times a week, sometimes at 5:30am! I ended up not trying out (I probably wouldn't have made it; the Y team in my town is really good).

Then one morning, after practice, I went to gymnastics. I tore my meniscus and ACL. That September (10th grade), I had surgery. The orthopedist told me I could swim, but I couldn't flipturn for "awhile" (I could flipturn by January), I also couldn't dive in for "awhile" (I dove in for the first time at the Prep Championship meet in February), I couldn't swim breaststroke (I still can't really swim breaststroke), and I should always wear flipflops on the pool deck and be really careful not to slip (I still am). I would have to miss practice once a week for physical therapy, though.

Not being able to dive in was, in a weird way, a sort of blessing. I started racing backstroke. It took awhile to perfect my turns (actually, I never really "perfected" my turns). But I really liked backstroke. I remember clearly one meet that year, I was swimming the 100 back, I was about to do the turn at the end of the first lap, and I saw some of my team mates cheering me on, and it was just the coolest thing ever.

11th grade was a pretty "normal" season. Except I had to miss a lot of practices- driving lessons, guitar lessons, and too much homework (Junior year, winter term = so much homework!).

This year (12th grade) it took until a few weeks into the season for me to realize that this was my last swim season. I didn't get to swim in the first meet (it was a tri-meet, meaning three teams instead of the usual two), so I was upset. I didn't stay for the whole thing (it was a Friday, I'd had a long day, and frankly, I just wanted to get home!). I was so annoyed that I didn't get to swim in the first meet (come on, I'm a senior!) that I briefly considered quitting the swim team, and instead trying out for the school musical. Then I realized that not only would I probably not get a part in the musical if I tried out, I would also miss swimming.

So I stuck it out. The first few weeks of the swim season were tough, because I was juggling so much: swim practice and meets, ballet, homework, and college applications. Needless to say, I didn't sleep quite as much as I wanted to.

Then came County Championships- you know, that time when I had to wake up at 6am on the first day back from winter break? The next week, on Friday, was Conference Championships- you know, that time when I had to stay at school past 9pm.

This past Wednesday was the Prep Championship meet. Our guys team came in 3rd at their Prep meet on Tuesday (which is pretty awesome), and they're actually going to the state tournament this week (which is also pretty awesome).

The Prep Championship meet is always a really long day. It was basically like this:
9:45am- We got on the bus. There's a TV on the bus, so someone puts on Fight Club, but I just put on my iPod, and prepare myself for the ride.
11:15- We get to the school where the meet is held. It's a boarding school, and the campus is really nice. The pool area isn't open yet, so we all hang out in the hallway.
11:30- The pool is opened, so we put our stuff down, and go change.
12:00pm- Warm-up starts, but my team has the second warm-up, so I read my book. I'm reading Peeps by Scott Westerfeld. I think Scott Westerfeld is an awesome writer. He writes mostly science fiction-y stuff for teens. It's not like dorky sci-fi, I just can't think of another word to describe it.
12:30- Time to warm up! I'm not really excited to get in the pool, but I get in anyway and swim. I realize that this is (most likely) the last time I'll be swimming in a competitive environment.
1:00- The meet starts, with the 200 medley relay. I read Topdog Underdog for English. It's okay. I'm reading for awhile, and then I have to go to the bathroom. As it happens every year, the bathroom has run out of toilet paper, which is awkward.
2:ooish- Time for my Exhibition 50 free. An "exhibition 50" is basically exactly what it sounds like: a 50 free that doesn't count for anything, a.k.a. a waste of time. I don't really know why my coach put me in an exhibition 50, since I was actually swimming a "real" race- 100 back. But whatever. I'm pretty sure the coach totally made up my seed time, so I'm in a heat with people who are much faster than me. But I do okay in the race. Not great, but okay.
2:05- After the race is done, I go back to my seat, and finish the reading for English. Then I read some more of Peeps, and generally just sit and watch the meet.
A few hours later- Finally it was time for my 100 back. I was excited, but nervous. I mean, it was my last race ever. I did alright. Not great, but alright. I came in either last or second to last in my heat, I don't quite remember. After my race, I shower and get changed. It's nice to not be sitting in a damp bathing suit. Dry clothes feel good.
6:30ish- We leave the meet. I see a van that says "SCHOOL STUDENTS" on it. Um, I thought the word "school" was implied in the word "students" (but correct me if I'm wrong).
7:00ish- We stop at Burger King. I'm starving. Since I'm a vegetarian, and I happen to know that Burger King's veggie burgers suck (I tried one sophomore year, after Preps), I just get fries and a chocolate milkshake. Do you know when the last time I had a chocolate milkshake was? I don't either, but it was a long time ago. I love milkshakes, but I don't have them very often.
7:30- We get back to school. After getting some stuff from my locker, I get in my car to drive home.
8:05- I get home.

And now, swim season of my senior year is over. I may not be "MVS" (Most Valuable Swimmer), but so what? I swam because I wanted to. And now, I keep wanting to type "I swim because I want to, or "I'm a varsity swimmer." I can no longer say either or those things. It's, "I swam because I wanted to", or "I was a varsity swimmer". I'm probably not going to swim in college, because frankly, I'm just not that good. If I had had to try out for the varsity swim team, I probably wouldn't have made it, but at my school, pretty much anyone who wants to do a sport can, and most people end up getting some time in the game- or, in the case of swimming, some chances to race in a meet.

I've accomplished a lot in swimming. I mean, I'm not significantly faster than I was when I started. But I'm in better shape, sort of. I swam 1500 yards in the first T-30, and at County Championships this year, I got first in my heat of the 100 back! When I swam on the summer rec team, I once got 2nd in my heat of the 50 back (2nd out of 2, but I still got a ribbon!), and my 200 free relay once got 1st place (again, I got a ribbon!).

I even wrote one of my college essays ("What experience in high school has mattered the most to you?" or something- kudos to anyone who knows what college it is) about swimming. I talked about how it helped me with setting and reaching goals, time management, competition, and perhaps something else that I can't remember.

I've gone through so many suits, caps, and pairs of goggles that I've lost count. It makes me sad, in a way, to see this "evidence" of my years on swim team in a pile on the floor (actually, this stuff really is in a pile on my floor, because my little sister had to borrow my swim bag for a sleepover). But it's cool, because I feel accomplished.

It's not like I'll never go swimming again. I mean, I have lifeguard training this spring, and this summer, I'll be lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons at the camp I work at (which is at my school). But it's different.

Do I regret swimming? Absolutely not. I figure that I spent close to 500 hours swimming. What would I have done with those 500 (or so) hours otherwise? Homework, perhaps. Maybe I would have gotten better grades, but maybe I wouldn't have. Watch TV. Read. Write. Play guitar. Maybe I would have taken dance classes. Maybe I wouldn't have had to stop gymnastics for 4 months freshman year, and maybe I never would have hurt my knee(s). Who knows? I'm not really sure what I would've done with all the extra time every winter, other than sleep in on Saturdays. I know one thing for sure, though- I wouldn't be the same person I am now. The end of swimming is truly the end of an era.

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